Rare Rides: 1986 London Coach Sterling Limousine - Formality and Finery
Today’s Rare Ride hails from beyond the normal reaches of even astute car enthusiasts’ knowledge base. It was the brainchild of some British executives who were convinced there was a market for the classic London Taxi in the United States. In addition to standard taxis, the company offered one that was thoroughly luxed and broughamed.
I’m just not sure.
First, the basics. The white elephant we see here is a 1986 London Coach Sterling limousine, built especially for the left-hand-drive U.S. market. The company seemed to practice the British tradition of adding the name “Sterling” to something domestic, and then selling it across the Atlantic to eager Americans.
The London Coach Company came into existence in 1984, after its British parent saw the market vacancy left by the Checker Cab Company after its 1982 closure.
The number of U.S.-spec examples built by the London Coach Company is an item of dispute. While various sources argue between 50 and 100 cars were produced, today’s listing cites 75 as the figure reported to the NHTSA.
All Sterlings were built in 1985 or ’86 by a company called Carbodies Limited in Coventry, England. The Coventry factory made complete vehicle kits that were shipped to London Coach in the United States for completion.
The Sterling was available in either standard Taxi, or a luxury Limousine version like our example. Exterior and interior components were an assortment of things London Coach purchased from a bin outside a British Leyland factory somewhere in the Midlands. What didn’t come from BL was the engine — a Ford 2.3-liter four-cylinder from a British Ford Escort (or an American Ford Pinto).
Limousine versions pulled out all the stops, as we see here. Extensive legroom and fine wood cabinetry matched with velour upholstery, cosseting passengers on their way to a Halloween party or perhaps a British-themed Midwestern hotel and spa. The driver fared less well than back seat guests, with haphazard dials and switches placed wherever room was available (his screams of dismay no doubt muted entirely by the drive-thru window behind his head).
No matter, these Sterling offerings were not to be. You see, a different Sterling name was just arriving in the North American market, one owned by Austin-Rover Cars of North America (ARCONA). The Honda-derived and British-meddled 825 and 827 were ready, and the company exerted pressure on London Coach to stop usage of the Sterling name.
It seems unlikely this request for a name change would’ve spelled the end of the company, but nevertheless, it was finished after just 75 cars. Today’s example is located in the urbane and crime-free paradise of Baltimore. With a bit of wear and 16,000 miles on the Smiths-built odometer, it asks $25,000.
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